Rating -

Drama/Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 120 Minutes

Anthony Hopkins:
Ethan Powell
Cuba Gooding Jr.: Dr. Theo Caulder
Donald Sutherland: Ben Hillard
Maura Tierney: Lyn Hillard

Produced by Michael Taylor and Barbara Boyle; Directed by John Turteltaub; Screenwritten by Gerald DiPego

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Instinct" sets us up with a plot that is shrouded in confusion. It tells us of a man who went into the jungle, was pronounced missing, turned up two years later, and went completely nuts on the people who crossed his path. Judging by the director's treatment of this story, Anthony Hopkins wasn't the only one who went ape.

The film is wretched beyond description; an act of lousy writing, feeble-minded directing, contrived suspense, ungripping twists and ripped-off psychological formulas. And it's not even smart enough to use these formulas to the plot's advantage. It rips the clichés right out from under the rug of much better movies, and then expects us not to notice.

But most of the complaints pale in comparison to the actors, who stare at each other in the movie like they're experts at a chess game, waiting for someone to shout out "checkmate." Gooding is stiff as the psychiatrist, and Hopkins looks more like a gorilla than an actual ape-man. His long hair and grinning teeth are more than enough to force viewers to shrink down in their seats, but one might have to recollect his performance in 1991s "The Silence Of The Lambs" in order to do so. That movie is a masterpiece. "Instinct" is an atrocity.

Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Ethan Powell, an anthropologist who journeyed into the dank, vast jungles to study gorillas two years ago, and was later found when he killed a couple of people and injured some others. Taken back to the United States and placed under the psychiatric care of a popular new doctor named Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the story slowly reveals a personality beyond what this doctor expects. At least, that's what the script wants us to believe.

The twists are mostly borrowed from movies like "Gorillas In The Mist," "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and "Suspect," and they are mixed together to try and create the impression that moviegoers have never seen them before. But for those who have seen any or all of the above films, the mixture becomes apparent. We are quick to recognize the clichés, especially during the conversations between Powell and Caulder, which are evidently inspired (or ripped off) from those between Hopkins and Jodie Foster of "The Silence Of The Lambs." The screenplay thinks we're stupid enough to fall for all the contrivance.

"Instinct" was directed by John Turteltaub, who, with films like "Phenomenon," has established himself as a man with no instinct of making real solid movies. In the past, he's experienced reasonable success with films like "Phenomenon" commercially, but not always critically. I suspect "Instinct" carries none of that success potential, because here, Turteltaub is not taking any of this mature subject matter seriously. At least with "Phenomenon," there was a reason to be silly. Here, he is being absurd and unreasonable towards the script's themes.

What this will do to the careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Anthony Hopkins, I dunno. Gooding is an okay actor, with enough good roles in the past to support him, and Hopkins has done wonderfully with every film up until now. I am reminded at this time of a moment from late last year, in which he promised the world that his career was on the verge of retirement. At the time, the idea seemed crazy; why would a terrific actor like Hopkins want to retire?

Now we see why. He had probably seen the final version of "Instinct" right before he made that decision.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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